As a parent and a performer, I was very excited last year when I learned that someone was putting on a children’s theatre camp in Hidden Valley. I’m always looking for things to keep my child occupied over the summer break and what could be better than sharing my passion with him, and so close to home!
That someone turned out to be Stepheny Moore Johnson.
Moore Johnson got the acting bug at the age of 6 when she performed in an elementary school production of The Music Man. She followed that up by joining a local theatre company directed by Alex H. Urban founder and director of the largest educational theatre network on the West Coast. “From that day on performing was a huge part of my childhood.”
Her father, Steve Moore, who spent his summers in Cobb as a child, first moved his own family to Lake County in the 80’s and then, again, in 1995 when the family purchased the property that would become the Moore Family Winery.
Moore Johnson enrolled as a freshman at Justin Sienna High in Napa because of their “award-winning theatre program” led by Urban. She went on to perform all over California in various shows produced by Urban’s theatre program including Into the Woods, Bye Bye Birdy, Oliver, The Wizard of Oz, and Peter Pan.
In 2000, after graduating from Chico State with a BA in Liberal Studies, she moved to Napa where she met her husband, Gary Johnson, Trade Relations Specialist for Trefethen Family Vineyards. She also became the choreographer and director of a children’s theatre in Sonoma County.
By 2010, she was still living in Napa and running Moore Family Winery in Cobb which she says was, “challenging.” So, the family packed up and moved to Hidden Valley to be closer. For the last 13 years, she has been the Director of Hospitality for the winery. In recent years she did double duty as the General Manager at Black Rock Golf Course which is also owned by the family.
Like many performers, Moore Johnson never lost her passion for theatre, she merely put it on hold to focus on her kids. She had been toying with the idea of starting a children’s theatre ever since moving back to Lake County, but due to the commitment needed to start a Children’s Theatre she opted to wait until her kids were a little older. When the time finally came, she decided to “test the waters” by putting on a theatre camp. She applied for a business license and Center Stage Kids Children’s Theatre was born. She was delighted to have 50 kids sign up for the camp. For many of them, it was their first time on stage.
She worked with the little kids in the morning and the older kids in the afternoon. The week-long camp culminated in a show comprised of solos and group numbers with all of the kids. (As an audience member, my son attended the camp, I couldn’t believe how good the performances were in less than a week’s time.) With the summer camp over and the kids wanting more, she turned her efforts toward becoming a Non-Profit 501(c)(3) and began preparations for a full-length production.
Moore Johnson ultimately decided on Annie. When I asked how she selected Annie for the company’s first production, Moore Johnson replied, “Well, who doesn’t love Annie! It’s a heartwarming tale of the little orphan Annie and what it means to be a family. It’s filled with upbeat musical numbers and memorable characters that everyone knows and is destined to have the audience on their feet.”
Moore Johnson herself has been a part of over 10 productions of Annie. Over the years she’s played an orphan, Lilly, Miss Hannigan, and has also choreographed and directed the show. “This musical means a lot to me and I know it will be a great introduction to musical theatre for many of the kids.”
She’s taking a little bit of a different approach with this production. There will be no auditions for the show. “There will be a place for everyone who registers.” Weekly rehearsals will begin in late February at Coyote Valley Elementary in Hidden Valley. That is a big deal for our side of the lake as most productions in this county rehearse in Lakeport. This show will afford many kids an opportunity to perform who otherwise would not be able to participate simply due to local.
Center Stage Kids is also going big for it’s first production. The kids are going to get the experience of performing at one of the county’s largest venues, the Soper Reese Theatre in Lakeport. The show is scheduled for May 29th through the 31st.
It takes a lot of money to put on a musical. Obtaining the rights to the show is usually one of the biggest costs. To fund the production, Moore Johnson is selling 50/50 raffle tickets. Tickets can be purchased through any of the students or by messaging her directly via her website or Facebook page. They are $10 apiece. The winner will be selected on January 11th and need not be present to win. The child that sells the most raffle tickets will have their registration fee for the production waived. So, if you know one of her students, you might want to buy your tickets from them.
In addition to Annie, Center Stage Kids is now offering theatre classes for local home school charter kids in Middletown at Kim’s Dance Studio. Classes are held on Wednesdays from 10 am to 11 am for those eleven years old and up and from 11 am to 12 pm for kids six to ten years old. A weekly Preschool Performers Class begins Wednesday, January 8th at 9am for kids three and up. And, summer camp will continue. This year’s camp will be June 22nd through 26th with the performance on the 27th.
But, Moore Johnson is not stopping there. She’s referring to Annie as the “Spring” Production. Her long term goal is to have a Spring and a Fall production and to continue with the summer camps. The productions are not limited to kids. Older family members may enroll and act with their children.
As a parent, I am so pleased to have more choices for my child in my county. Especially, now, when the arts and music have been cut or severely curtailed in our schools. And, as a member of a local theatre company I am excited at the prospect of growing future generations of adult performers and appreciators of theatre in our community. Center Stage Kids is poised to fill a void in our community. I will be excited to see where Moore Johnson takes it.
If you would like more information on classes, summer camp, Annie, how to purchase raffle tickets, or how to become involved, please check out the website at www.centerstagekidsca.com or the Center Stage Kids Children’s Theatre Facebook page.